Federal Land Management and Benefits for Education

The federal government is the largest landowner in the United States, controlling almost1/3 of the entire land mass of the United States—an area more than six times the size of California. Over 90 percent of federal land is located in western states. The vast majority of these federal lands were set aside with the understanding that they would be managed for multiple use which would include grazing, recreation, conservation, and sensible natural resource development. However, Congress imposed laws and regulations that in many cases are unreasonable and burdensome. As a result, managing federal lands costs the American taxpayer billions of dollars a year more than tourism revenue can possibly produce. Inexplicably, the federal government continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to acquire additional land. An area larger than the size of Florida has been added to the federal estate since Kennedy administration.

One of the often overlooked effects of continued massive federal land ownership is the impact on public education in the West. Even though state and local taxes of western states, as a percentage of personal income, are as high as or higher than other states, there is a persistent shortfall in funding for public education. Part of this is attributed to population growth. An even larger factor in education funding problems for western states is their inability to generate tax revenue due to the vast amounts of federal lands within their jurisdiction. Since public education is heavily dependent on state and local property taxes, western states are suffering.

To address this, many members of the Western Caucus have endorsed legislation known as “The Action Plan for Public Lands and Education”, or APPLE. APPLE is a western states initiative aimed at alleviating the shortfall in funding public education in the West. The act would authorize western states to select five percent of BLM and Forest Service lands within their state to be sold or leased, with the generated revenue dedicated solely to public education. Similar land disposal mechanisms have been set up for specific purposes in other states.